As much as South Carolina’s freshmen are the building blocks, the Gamecocks knew they would need contributions from their old guard to win this season. They didn’t have to necessarily take over, but they needed to provide something, especially early in the season when the rookies were still drying their ears.
Or they could just control a game or two and give the freshmen the afternoon off, such as Brenton Williams and Michael Carrera did on Saturday.
Williams, the team’s (presently) lone senior, and Carrera, the all-SEC freshman a year ago, combined for 37 points as the Gamecocks bombarded the Zips 78-45 for their second consecutive win (both against Akron) and third win in four games. Shackled by icy paint shooting but still leading 30-24 at the break, USC (5-6) outscored the Zips (6-5) 17-1 to start the second stanza and could luxuriantly relax for one of the few times all year.
“I think guys are really buying into how we need to play to be a good team,” coach Frank Martin said. “They’re believing in one another and what we’re trying to do to win.”
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Starting for the second game in a row, Williams stroked an early 3-pointer and kept it up. He scored a game-high 24 as the Zips constantly lost him on defense, until finding him as he flicked another ball off his wrist and through the net.
Williams finished with six 3-pointers and also tied John Roche’s school record with two free throws, which gave him 41 consecutive makes dating to last year. “Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever hit that many in a row,” Williams said. “I think it was a mentality thing, first of all. I triggered myself to start games as assertively as soon as I can.”
Meanwhile, Carrera continued to show that playing out of position at power forward last year might have been the best move for him. He sees himself as a small forward in the future, but back at the four on Saturday, Carrera seemed more energetic and was definitely more productive, scoring 13 points, snaring seven rebounds and muscling the ball through Akron’s big boys.
“Michael’s just gotten engaged in what we’re doing. I could play him at the point if he was engaged at what we’re doing,” Martin said. “As he’s been trying to regroup, some other perimeter guys have gotten fully engaged. The minutes out there are going to other people. (The four for him is) what’s available right now.”
USC fought through several shots bouncing out in the first half and then saw it happen to Akron in the second. As the Gamecocks scored nearly at will, the Zips had one point to show for their first eight minutes of the second half.
By the time Pat Forsythe hit a short jumper, USC led by 20. Martin was able to clear the bench in the final five minutes, and the Gamecocks cruised.
Mindaugas Kacinas was the only other player in double figures with 11 points, but Demetrius Henry and Sindarius Thornwell each had eight and USC had 20 assists on 28 field goals. The Gamecocks also had 17 offensive rebounds and played sticky defense, blossoming guard Duane Notice keeping Akron’s drivers planted on the perimeter.
USC was feeling good but Martin cautioned the Gamecocks to enjoy it, and recognize what went into it. That’s where the growth is found, the all-important process of this season as USC readies for the SEC.
“I just talked to them about that,” Martin said. “Feel good about winning. Winning is hard. But you’ve got to understand what allowed you to feel that way.”